True North, Strong and Free

For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Eph. 2:18-20

Canadian Identity. It’s a subject that has been done to death in academic musings and public radio broadcasts. Yet, it’s a definition that still seems elusive. What does it mean to be Canadian? What does our country mean to us? In a globalized era, how does the nation state figure into our consciousness? What relevance does it have to our faith?

Being Canadian isn’t a homogenous experience. Canada means different things to its different citizens, possibly because we are, as the old trope goes, a mosaic.

To celebrate Canada, we decided to ask some people in our community what being Canadian means to them. What emerged were a few consistent themes, but each through a very different lens.

Pastor Marc Potvin
Greenridge Baptist Church, Sherbrooke, QC

Diversity. Tension. Opportunity.

These are the three words that Pastor Marc Potvin identifies with his perspective on Canada. Canada is a diverse nation, not only ethnically and linguistically, but in a diversity of opinions and ideas as well. This diversity is, in part, what contributes to the tension. It isn’t always easy balancing such a heterogeneous nation. But because we are different, we have opportunities that other nations don’t have. For Pastor Marc, many of the opportunities of Canada lie in the risk that this tension and diversity creates.

“My hope for the future is to keep that tension in such a way that it brings unity as opposed to disunity. We’re different parts, but we need those parts to function well as a country. We shouldn’t use the diversity as a way to get power – not divide and conquer. That’s my hope and my fear—that the diversity will be used to pull us apart. We need each other’s voices and to celebrate how this country was established – we’re people united for the sake of commerce and safety. To keep that tension in check. It’s the orchestra. It’s difficult to do—we’ve managed it a few times in our history and it’s beautiful when it works, but most of the time different voices want to be heard and it distracts from who we could be.

As Christians, we all belong to the same Saviour. As Canadians, we all belong to the same country. We need to remember everyone— we’re still citizens of the same country. We need to compromise.”

Rana Najjar
Summer intern with Dixon Ministries

Rana Najjar is still a fairly new Canadian, but sitting in a mall chatting with other interns, phones on the table, she clearly fits right in. Currently studying in Toronto, Rana arrived from Mosul, Iraq, just over three years ago. If that gives you some pause, it should. Mosul is not a safe place for Christians.

From being an Assyrian Christian in Isis-controlled territory, to Toronto, there has been a complete sea change in Rana’s life. There is no question that Canada’s religious liberty is important to her, nor any chance that she will ever take it for granted. For her, Canada means freedom. “You’re not afraid when you go outside; not afraid when you talk… [It’s] the freedom to be yourself. You can also have freedom of religion whether you’re a visible minority or not.”

While the freedom to worship is first in her mind, Rana also recognizes Canada as a land of opportunity, especially for women. She feels that here she has the chance to do whatever she wants with her life, and that regardless of how old one might be, there are opportunities to learn, grow and achieve. Rana’s exhortation for Canada’s future is this: “Keep multicultural! Flourish. Accept all cultures and religions… it’s a huge thing.”

Mrs. Agnes Ellsworth
First Baptist Church, Puce

First Baptist Church, Puce has an important history in Canada. A worshipping community since the mid-19th century, FBC Puce was founded when travelers on the Underground Railroad arrived in Canada in search of freedom. While our nation may not have done everything right, offering freedom to those who had been enslaved is a bright spot in our collective history.

Mrs. Agnes Ellsworth is a member of that early church, and a fourth generation Canadian. While Mrs. Ellsworth admits to not thinking a great deal about her Canadian identity, in a short conversation, a picture begins to emerge of a woman who has fearlessly forged her own path. The first black nurse in Windsor, Mrs. Ellsworth has accessed opportunities that many women around the world were denied. “I fulfilled what I wanted to do and didn’t have any problem. I did it with faith in God all the way.” Now 86, she is still an active person, fishing, horseback riding and enjoying nature. “I never found my history to be negative. We were brought here by God. My great-grandfather built his home on the street we’re on now… They were strong people and built a community with the church. The township received them well and the government gave them land to till and they made farming their lifestyle.”

We have our fair share of dark chapters in our history. It is good to know that once in a while, we get things right.

Canada is diverse. It is bursting with opportunity. It is complicated. It is imperfect. It is free. We have so much that it can be easy to take it all for granted.

God, keep our land glorious and free.

If you’ve noticed the conspicuous absence of the Indigenous Canadian voice in the article, don’t worry—so have we!
We’ll be continuing this series over the year and ensuring that many different Canadian voices are heard.

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